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Why do my nipples hurt?


Inflammation and blocked ducts

Ordinary soreness from cracked skin around the nipple should clear up within a few days but sometimes poor breastfeeding techniques result in painful, tender breasts. This can indicate a blocked duct and may be the first sign of inflammatory conditions such as mastitis or a breast abscess that requires medical attention. Other common causes of inflammation include:

  • A knock or blow to the breast
  • A bra that’s too tight
  • Missing a feed

Deep cracks or bleeding may also indicate a bacterial infection.

Seek medical advice immediately if you develop these symptoms:

  • Painful cracks or open wounds on the surface of the nipple or areola
  • Heat or redness of the nipple, or on the surface of the breast
  • New, unusual, or changing breast lumps
  • Nipple discharge, especially a brown or bloody discharge, or bleeding from the nipple
  • General flu like symptoms
  • Feeling achy, tired or teary


This is an inflammation of the ducts of the breast, usually caused by poor milk drainage during breastfeeding. It can develop very quickly. Symptoms include a red area on part of the breast that is painful or a lumpy feeling in the breast that is hot to the touch. It may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Redness does not always indicate infection and treatment with antibiotics may be avoided if self-help measures are used straight away.

Self help

  • Feed your baby more often
  • Check the baby is latching on correctly
  • Feed baby on the tender breast first
  • Hand express milk if breasts still feel full after feeding
  • Warm flannels or a shower or bath before feeds may help milk flow
  • Gently stroke the sore lump towards the nipple during feeding
  • Rest
  • Anti-inflammatories may help reduce pain and swelling. Always check these are safe when breast-feeding

If pain hasn’t subsided in 12 to 24 hours, seek medical advice.

Breast abscess

A breast abscess is when a painful collection of pus forms in the breast. Breast abscesses are often linked to mastitis and usually affect breastfeeding women. However, they can also occur as a result of nipple piercing. It can be caused by bacteria entering the breast tissue, or by milk ducts becoming blocked. This can result in breast and/or nipple pain. Symptoms include:

Breast abscesses need to be drained. Small ones can be drained using a needle and syringe. Larger abscesses require a small incision to drain the pus.


Nipple pain during breastfeeding may be a sign of nipple thrush – or candidiasis. Symptoms of thrush may develop after several weeks of breastfeeding and include:

  • Pain, burning or stinging that develops in one or both breasts
  • Shooting pain that can last up to an hour after breastfeeding
  • Cracked, flaky or sore nipples

It’s also possible to have no symptoms of infection and this condition can be difficult to diagnose. Your baby may show signs of thrush such as white patches in the mouth. Thrush is caused by the candida yeast. You and your baby will need treating with anti-fungal cream or gel, or oral medicines.

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